Tests Highlight Need for Congress to Address Shipping Platforms in Food Safety Bill
Press Release Source: Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS) On Wednesday December 16, 2009.
In a random sampling of wood pallets used to ship food in Portland, ME, and Philadelphia, PA, numerous pallets tested positive for Listeria and abnormally high counts of bacteria that could potentially create health hazards for consumers. The new data bolster the findings of previous wood pallet testing conducted in the Washington-Baltimore area, further illustrating the unsanitary conditions and unacceptable risks to our nation’s food supply from wood pallets.
The new round of tests were commissioned by Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC), operator of the world’s first pallet rental service providing shippers and receivers with all-plastic pallets with embedded RFID tags. iGPS gathered samples from wood pallets located at lobster and fishing docks in Portland, ME, and outdoor food markets in Philadelphia, and submitted them to an independent scientific laboratory for testing. iGPS videotaped the unsanitary wood pallets in Portland, and is making that video available today to the news media. Click here to view video.
In Portland, five of 30 pallets tested positive for Listeria. Three of the five pallets tested positive for the most serious strain of Listeria, called Listeria monocytogenes, which is the causative agent for Listeriosis. Responsible for approximately 2,500 illnesses and 500 deaths in the United States annually, Listeriosis is the leading cause of death among food borne bacterial pathogens, with fatality rates exceeding even Salmonella and Clostridium botulinum.
The two other pallets testing positive for Listeria carried strains called "Seeligeri/Welshimeri" and "Seeligeri/Ivanouii," which can be pathogenic for mice and may have been associated with a small handful of illnesses in seriously compromised individuals in the past.
In Philadelphia, 15 of the 30 wood pallets tested by iGPS had abnormally high bacteria counts that exceeded 100,000 colonies or counts/gram. Nearly half (14 of 30) of the wood pallets tested in Maine had bacteria plate counts that exceeded 100,000 counts/gram. High bacteria counts typically are evidence of unsanitary conditions.
"This is an indication of unsanitary surfaces and could potentially create a health hazard for consumers," said Dr. Peter Kmieck, Director of Kappa Laboratories, Inc., which conducted the independent tests. "It’s clear from the tests we’ve conducted in Philadelphia and Portland, Maine that wooden pallets can harbor a lot of bacteria, and even pathogens, because of wood’s propensity to retain moisture," Dr. Kmieck said.
iGPS commissioned the new round of tests after submitting a limited random sampling of wood pallets gathered in the Washington-Baltimore area to another independent scientific laboratory for testing. The lab, Environmental Systems Service in Bedford, VA, found Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria or extremely high bacteria counts – as much as 6.8 million spores per gram – in more than one-third of the wood pallets tested. Click here to view press release.
"There is a growing body of evidence that wood pallets pose unacceptable risks to our nation’s food supply. We are sharing the data from these tests with the FDA and are once again asking the agency to conduct a comprehensive investigation and adopt appropriate measures to mitigate the risks presented by wood pallets," said Bob Moore, Chairman and CEO, iGPS.
Wood pallets often contain broken wood pieces that puncture packaging materials, exposing food to contamination from both the pallet and other potential sources. Food is also exposed to contamination when packaging materials are torn by rusting and protruding nails that are often contained in wood pallets.
"There are more than one billion wood pallets used in the United States, so it’s critical to understand the role they play in outbreaks of food poisoning," added Moore. "We also need an effective way to track and trace wood pallets in the supply chain so that FDA and USDA can identify the source of food contamination and quickly stop the spread of food borne illnesses. For example, iGPS plastic pallets have microchips embedded in the resin that allow us to pinpoint shipments anywhere in the supply chain and provide a complete history of all goods moved on any one pallet. There is no effective way to identify individual wood pallets.
"As Congress works to strengthen food safety measures, we urge Members to examine the data and consider the role wooden shipping platforms play in food contamination," Moore added.
In the tests, iGPS collected used, in-circulation wood pallets from lobster and fishing docks in Portland, and from outdoor food markets in Philadelphia. Using proper handling and chain of custody procedures, the field-testing team gathered the samples and shipped them in refrigerated packages to Kappa Laboratories, Inc., in Miami, Florida. Kappa Laboratories is a full-service chemical and microbiology lab that has been inspected and previously recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Microbiology-#0093, Chemistry-#1282). It has been certified by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP), and is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA-#1039389). Kappa Laboratories is an FDA Accepted Laboratory for Import Testing and is currently a Contract Laboratory to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).